A Runner’s Intro to Power Yoga
Perhaps, like me, you are a data-driven, goal-oriented runner. Runners, in my experience, are creatures of habit. Glued to our GPS watches, the weather report and a race calendar, we may lose sight of the joy to be had in other forms of exercise. If you are like me, you might get in a rut of hitting the stationary bike, popping in the same old fitness DVD or just skipping cross training all together. When I wrapped up my 2013 racing season at the end of October, I knew I needed a break from running. Some runners consider an off-season to be akin to sacrilege, but I knew I needed it this year. My body was weary, my mind was fried from crunching so many numbers. I had promised myself that once my marathon training was over, I would try something new. And after debating what to try or where to go to try it, I took a leap and bought a $10 – 10 day pass to my local yoga studio.
I have to admit, I am not a lover of group exercise. I have little rhythm, tend to trip over my own two feet when I am standing up, and running is as about as graceful as I get. So group yoga was intimidating for me. What if I could not keep up? What if I fell down on top of an unsuspecting neighbor? What if I didn’t have the right gear? Thankfully, the instructors at the studio were welcoming and my first class was not overcrowded, leaving me plenty of room to fall and not injure anyone else.
So what exactly is power yoga? Power yoga is both sitting and standing postures, blended together to “flow” from pose to pose. Poses connect to the breath, also called “vinyasa,” translated from Sanskrit as “connection.” If you have done any type of yoga workout before, the basic moves you know are included: downward dog, upward dog, “plank,” chair pose, etc. An instructor leads the class through a series of movements over the course of an hour, often to music. The highlight for me? My studio teaches power yoga in a heated classroom. The temperatures tops out at about 90 degrees during the hour and fifteen minute class.
Jessica’s definition of power yoga? One of the best workouts I have ever done. The heat eased the tension I felt in my muscles after marathon training came to a close. The instructor in my first class played music that took my focus off my performance anxiety, including hip-hop, classic rock and simple instrumental tunes. As I focused on my breath and on the challenge of moving from pose to pose, I forgot to worry about whether or not I looked ridiculous. I used a yoga block (a brick-sized piece of foam) to help balance during more difficult moves. And after nearly an hour of sweating, moving and stretching, I enjoyed the five minutes of quiet meditation at the end of class. I felt drained, but in a different way than a long run drains me. Over the past six weeks, I have attended more classes and can make the following recommendations:
- Try before you buy. Most yoga studios offer some type of short-term pass to allow you to try classes for a low cost. Find a studio that works for you and try as many classes as you can in the 10 days. I went to 5 different classes before I decided to invest in more sessions.
- Visit multiple classes at your studio. Each instructor is different, as is their choice in music and general style.
- Wear clothing you are comfortable in, but preferably nothing that is too loose. You do not want to have to worry about pulling things down or tucking them in as you move from pose to pose.
- Heated classes are sweat fests – bring a towel. If you find you love hot classes, you can later invest in a yoga mat cover that is specially designed for hot yoga.
- Bring plenty of water and drink throughout the day after you leave class. Think about how much you would drink after running in 90 degree heat!
- Ask for help. Let your instructor know that you are new or would like help with certain poses. Don’t be afraid to sit down and watch what others are doing or to take a break if the class is working on something that you are not familiar with. Yoga is an individual practice, not a do-or-die effort at all.
- Say hello to your mat neighbor. Runners can be solitary souls. Reach out and let the person next to you know you’re new. Yogis seem to be some of the most welcoming people I’ve met.
2014 is right around the corner. I am registered for two half marathons already and am considering entering my first Olympic distance triathlon. My race calendar is filling quickly, but I am going to be sure to add in weekly trips to yoga. Happy running and happy new year to you!